Comedy

'My heart gets crushed a lot': Allana Harkin on being a Canadian in New York and a comedian in 2020

A producer and correspondent of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, Allana Harkin is working on this week’s episode covering the 2020 American election.

The producer and correspondent of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee on covering the 2020 American election.

Born in Hamilton, Ontario, comedian Allana Harkin has been living and working in New York City for five years. When COVID-19 hit North America in March, the city was ravaged by the pandemic.

"Our numbers were awful. I don't know anybody who doesn't know somebody who caught COVID," said Harkin, who is currently staying in New Jersey.

The CBS building shut down on March 11 after multiple confirmed cases, while Harkin and the Full Frontal team were shooting their show.

"I just saw a miracle happen"

"It was like the apocalypse," said Harkin. "It came so fast and quick, and there was a lot of fear."

But witnessing New York City struggle, come together and recover, Harkin was equally amazed by its resilience as she was shocked by the pandemic. 

"I saw the true beauty, true strength and spirit of the city — and it will resonate with me forever."

The CBS building shut down on March 11 after multiple confirmed cases, while Harkin and the Full Frontal team were shooting their show. 

"I don't know if I ever felt emotional about New York City. And now I do. Now I'm forever loyal."

Even though she's only been a New Yorker for five years, Harkin said she gets defensive quickly when people, and certain politicians, paint the city in a negative light.

Whenever I hear anybody sort of slamming New York City or saying it's a ghost town or New York is dead… I get my feathers up so quickly because I feel like I just saw a miracle happen.- Allana Harkin

The recovery of New York City shows how people can turn things around in a short amount of time, Harkin said, "which I'm using as a metaphor for this election."

She said the 2020 Presidential election would have been intense without the pandemic, but now there's an added layer of fear.

Covering the election through comedy

Actively tweeting about the election and encouraging people to vote, Harkin is vocal about her dissatisfaction with the Trump administration and poor handling of the pandemic.

"I don't think anything has changed for the way that we approach the material," said Harkin on how comedians are treating political satire in this challenging year.

"But for our show, research is really important… there's liberty when it comes to comedy, but we're really just telling the truth."

When dealing with serious topics in politics, Harkin said sometimes it just doesn't feel right to turn them into jokes. 

"[Comedy] is what my job is and what people expect me to do. But at the same time, I don't want to all the time," she said. 

I find that a lot of comedians are very emotional people who care very deeply. And so you get to a point where you're just like – insert no joke here.- Allana Harkin

With less than a week till Election Day, the Full Frontal team will be approaching their next week's episode in a different way.

Harkin said based on their experience covering the 2016 election, they've learned that the election outcome can be highly unpredictable.

"This year, we are coming up with multiple endings," she said. "There's 'Biden wins,' there's 'Trump wins' or there's 'we don't know yet.'"

Harkin said although the state of democracy is fragile, she remains hopeful.

"I do find the hope a lot," Harkin said. "Which also means my heart gets crushed a lot; I think that is very Canadian."

Reflecting on Canadian and American cultures

Working in the U.S. has been a massive learning curve for Harkin, and she talks about Canada often even though her work deals with American politics. "I bring up healthcare a lot in conversations that we have."

Despite the intense political climate in the U.S., Harkin said she's inspired by citizens proactively taking actions and relentlessly showing up to fight for change. 

We are very different countries… but I've felt more Canadian than I ever did before by living here for sure, whatever that means.- Allana Harkin

And she thinks there's a lot of potential for Canadians to cover and delve into important topics and issues happening in society.

"We're kind of like, 'that issue is happening in Nova Scotia, I don't know what it is exactly,' or  'what does treaty right really mean?" Harkin said. "I think there's an immense opportunity for that [information]."

Harkin hasn't been able to visit her family in Canada since last December. But she used to get emotional every time she returned.

"Whenever we would cross the border, I always found that the customs officer would say welcome home. And I'm not even kidding you, I would burst into tears."

Get a dog—but maybe not a puppy

Harkin said her job requires her to deal with "a tsunami of information constantly." So how does she cope?

"At the end of the day, your family needs you… and that is very grounding for me," she said.

People are often shocked when Harkin talks about her family. "They're really shocked that I have a husband and two kids. What? You can do that and work in comedy?"

Harkin also shares her anecdotes in her Quarantine Questions series as part of Full Frontal, where she answers the audience's questions on different topics related to quarantine living. 

Watch: Full Frontal with Samantha Bee producer Allana Harkin talks about developing your perspective as a comedian.

"It's interesting how the pandemic has sort of shifted how we approach the show creatively," she said.

Her advice for people in this challenging time is to get a dog – preferably an old one. 

"Get a dog because you have to take your dog out for a walk. Or if you want to put a cat on a leash, you can also do that," she said.

"Do not get a puppy. Getting a puppy is like having a baby. They poop everywhere. You have to train them. Why would you do that to yourself? Go and get an old dog from the shelter." 

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